The World Health Organization said it is too early to lift the highest-level alert for the COVID-19 crisis, with the pandemic remaining a global health emergency despite recent progress.
The WHO’s emergency committee on COVID-19 met last week and concluded that the pandemic still constitutes a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), a status it declared back in January 2020.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Wednesday that he agreed with the committee’s advice.
“The committee emphasized the need to strengthen surveillance and expand access to tests, treatments and vaccines for those most at risk,” he said, speaking from the UN health agency’s headquarters in Geneva.
Since the start of the COVID pandemic, more than 622 million confirmed COVID cases have been reported to WHO and more than 6.5 million deaths, although those numbers are believed to be significant underestimates.
Tedros acknowledged Wednesday that “the global situation has obviously improved since the pandemic began,” but he warned that “the virus continues to change and there remain many risks and uncertainties.”
As this developed, all travelers to the Philippines will now have to secure an electronic arrival card, the Department of Health (DOH) said Thursday.
The department said the eArrival Card will replace the One Health Pass that travelers have complained about. Pre-registration on the eArrival platform will be mandatory starting Nov. 1, 2022, the DOH said.
“Through the eArrival Card, we want to make processing easier and faster while maintaining health regulation and monitoring,” the DOH said in a statement.
The DOH said Filipino and foreign inbound travelers can fill out the eArrival Card within 72 hours before departure to avoid inconveniences upon arrival.
Meanwhile, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. urged local government units to address the backlog in the encoding of 1.4 million VaxCertPH certificates, under the government’s official digital vaccination certificate program.
“This has long been an issue in our LGUs as we try to improve the inventory of Filipino citizens who have registered for VaxcertPH. We implore our LGUs to work double time in addressing their backlogs in the VIMS (Vaccination Information Management System),” Abalos said.
As of Sept. 22, the VIMS, VaxCertPH’s official central database, had a backlog of 1,460,582 vaccination records of citizens.
Of this number, Abalos said, 334,317 were due to missing records; 308,386 were not recorded for lack of manpower; 243,300 were due to late submission; 122,897 were due to incomplete data; 109,806 were due to missing data fields; 94,575 were due to operational and procedural issues; and, 75,831 were due to internet problems.
The DILG chief said now that VaxCertPH is recognized across 94 countries and territories, LGUs must ensure that the digital records of their vaccinated constituents are updated.
In an urgent DILG memo released recently, Abalos reminded all local chief executives and LGU VaxcertPH focal persons that vaccine records of all vaccinated individuals should be uploaded to the VIMS on the same day or within 24 hours of a person’s inoculation.
Also on Thursday, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. reiterated his call urging Filipinos to get a COVID-19 booster shot following the detection of the immune-evasive Omicron subvariant XBB and variant XBC in the country.
The President made the call during his speech at the 75th Ormoc City Diamond Charter Day celebration, lamenting that the Philippines still has a low booster uptake, especially in Ormoc City.
“I call on the people of Ormoc City to actively participate… We still have look after our health. Sometimes… we don’t wear masks …we sometimes forget that the pandemic still exists,” the President said.
He added that the wall of immunity to be built by COVID-19 vaccines would help speed up the full reopening of the economy.
The President said the city government should administer booster shots to at least 50 percent of its population to build a “wall of immunity” against COVID-19.
“Go get your booster shot so that infections will decline and businesses can open up with no more protocols,” he said
In other developments:
• An expert in emergency medicine said COVID-19 vaccines currently administered in the Philippines can still protect against the Omicron XBB subvariant and XBC variant of the coronavirus. Dr. Ted Herbosa, chairman of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine, said vaccines remain effective in preventing severe and critical illnesses due to COVID-19, or even death, especially among the vulnerable sectors. “It is still important that we get vaccinated because the findings show that all variants are still affected by the vaccines. Our primary vaccines and boosters are still useful in preventing XBB and XBC,” he said in a public briefing. As of Tuesday, the Philippines has already recorded 81 cases of
Omicron XBB subvariant and 193 cases of the XBC variant.
• The Philippines on Thursday reported 2,227 new COVID-19 cases, pushing the total number of infections to 3,989,556. Of the new cases, 735 were from Metro Manila. Active cases stood at 23,721, the DOH said. The country also logged 44 deaths, raising the COVID-19 death toll to 63,669.
• Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III on Thursday said people cannot live in fear of every new COVID-19 variant. It is time, he added, to learn to live with the COVID-19 virus.